The Days when summer was almost at an end, and school was right around the corner, made me appreciate the last of the free days and the endless sun. The days seemed so much hotter then, almost as if they knew they were coming to a conclusion. Though none of us guys really wanted to acknowledge it, we knew that our days as free men were numbered, and all that mattered was to make the very most out of the time we had left. Newer, more exciting adventures would lay at our feet. And though we would need to seek them out, these adventures were well-planned, and almost desperate, as they would be the last in a long, long while.
I remember the days when there were still plenty of empty fields to play in within our neighborhoods. Often, they were smaller, but plush and overgrown with bushes and whatever trees that lived there. And doesn't seem so true that nobody else wanted to play in these fields at the same time you did? It was great, and almost as if we had the places to ourselves. My friends and I used to play some of our best games of army in these sacred places.
Some of these fields were being developed for residential sections, and were therefore construction sites where mounds of dirt had been deposited. Mostly, they were just abandoned, and they were so much fun. The fields in my neighborhoods used to have some sort of entrance, like an abandoned cyclone fence gate-with no fence, just the metal posts-or perhaps a section of sidewalk that led into them. Whatever the spaces were, we were very happy that they weren't being used.
One of my favorite play places used to have a huge stack of old tires. It was perhaps twenty feet high or more with hundreds of old rejects. Maybe at one time it was an abandoned tire shop or auto repair place.
There was one time when my brothers and I were playing in that particular field when they said that I would never be able to climb to the top of the tire stack by myself. Naturally, I had to prove them wrong, and climb up the stack. Once I was victorious, and had reached the apex of the rubber monument I was greeted not by cheers of success, but rather BB's! My brothers had loaded their BB guns and were firing at will. Talk about a game of Army! My revenge followed on a later date with a rock and a bees' nest in one of our trees.
Our own special secret places that nobody else knew about (or so we convinced ourselves) were sacred. I can recall one place in particular, just at the end of the parking lot of the 20th Century Lanes bowling alley. It was a small stand of trees surrounded by bushes with a secluded bare spot of ground just behind it. It was shady beneath the canopy of leaves, and offered enough space to hold five or six kids. I can recall gathering with a few friends and reading comic books and eating candy we'd just bought at Food Fair a few blocks away.
This clearing was backed by a cyclone fence that divided the bowling alley from Barlow Elementary School. It was a great place to just hide out, hang out, dream, plan, and spend time with great friends.
Showing off in front of girls was always a good thing. In the movies, our favorite guy actors always had some girl nearby who melted in his presence. If being tough in front of girls was good enough for guys like Steve McQueen, James Bond, or the Man from U.N.C.L.E, surely it was good enough for us. Death defying stunts and great feats of daredevil agility were common activities for myself, and the local boneheads in the neighborhood. Usually, showing off in front of the girls on a daily basis was the thing to do if they were around, and if they were paying attention. The more dangerous, wild, or fast, the better it was if they were watching.
Brilliant feats of stupidity were usually best accomplished on a bike. One of my favorite all-time wipe-outs, was on a gravel road where I proceeded to take about 8 inches of skin off my knee, forearm and elbow. And yes, girls were watching. I started off pedaling on smooth asphalt until I reached a super speed, then headed straight for a patch of gravel to perform an awesome spin-out, the type that I'd done hundreds of times before. However, on this day, I was not one with the gravel; I remember that my bike--instead of spinning out--spun upward, the back wheel going over my head, thrusting me chest first into the gravel road.
As I lay, tangled like a pretzel, I knew I'd done some decent damage to myself. The bandages actually had to stay on for about a week over that one. They were cool too, as the wounds were far too large for the simple Band-Aid. My mom had to use gauze, and white tape (you know, the kind that takes off the first layer of skin when removed) in order to patch me up. The skin on my knee was torn pretty good, and I reckon that one bike fatality to be one of my worst ever. Stern lectures from Mom followed including threats to take away my bike for a month "if I ever tried anything like that again." I did look very cool with the bandages though, I have to admit.
Eating green apples right off the tree in late summer sure gave me stomach aches a-plenty, but it was so much fun. Eating fruit off the trees was the greatest thing ever. No food ever tasted as good as the food that was hunted and found. The hard greenies made for great throwing, invoking contests of who could throw the farthest, or who could hit a target. Amongst my friends and I, the contests soon evolved into throwing green apples at each other.
Apple trees were also great for climbing. How many secret plans had been drawn in the heat of a summer day while shaded by the leaves of a mighty tree? The world was a much better place when viewed from above.
Raiding the corner store armed with pennies, nickels, dimes, or maybe some empty pop bottles was something we all did two to three times a day. It was almost the place to hang out. There was so much candy to choose from. I preferred licorice in any way, shape or form. My favorites were black and red licorice vines, black licorice pipes, and anything else that was chewy.
Perusing the comics on the rack was great too, but I could only afford one comic at a time. Actually, that was the best way to collect them was one at a time; it made me appreciate them so much more. There was nothing like a great comic book. They offered three to four different stories all for the grand price of twelve cents! You could hardly find a better deal than a comic book.
As for super heroes, I was pretty big on Superman, Batman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Green Lantern. What I really loved was the Gold Key comics, and anything to do with monsters, or comics based on movies and TV shows. I remember one summer day when I'd gone to the local Food Fair store. Food Fair wasn't a corner store, nor was it a shopping store; it was one of those mid-size, in-between stores with an outdoor fruit and vegetable market in the season. The toy rack wasn't very big, but they had something that just grabbed at me everytime I went there:a bag of plastic circus figures in different colors. It cost a whole whopping twenty-nine cents, which then, was a lot of money. I eventually saved the money for it, and just loved them! I was playing with them out on the baseball diamond far behind Barlow School on a hot summer day.
I remember hearing Dusty Springfield sing "Wishin' and Hopin'" on the radio that morning, so whenever I hear that song, I remember those plastic circus figures and how much fun I had with them. I always liked collecting plastic figures, and had so many of them.
Later that day I found a couple of golf balls in the tall grass near the cyclone fenceline that divided--not only the 20th Century Lanes bowling alley--but the U-Drive Golf Range and Go Kart track. 3 golf balls meant a cherry Dilly Bar at the neighboring Dairy Queen! What a great day in 1964 that was.
The threat of school came to fruition at the very beginning of the coming September, but all in all, that wasn't such a bad thing; you got to be with your friends all gathered in one place.